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NCJ Number: NCJ 054568     Find in a Library
Title: SMALL CLAIMS COURTS - A NATIONAL EXAMINATION
Author(s): J C RUHNKA ; S WELLER ; J A MARTIN
Corporate Author: National Ctr for State Courts
Publications Dept
United States of America
Date Published: 1978
Page Count: 232
Sponsoring Agency: National Science Foundation
United States of America
Grant Number: APR 75-07905
Sale Source: National Ctr for State Courts
Publications Dept
300 Newport Avenue
Williamsburg, VA 23185
United States of America
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: THIS DETAILED 2-YEAR STUDY OF 15 SMALL CLAIMS COURTS EXAMINES SEVERAL ISSUES IN SMALL CLAIMS REFORM AND STUDIES THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THESE COURTS IN PROVIDING AN INEXPENSIVE, QUICK MECHANISM FOR DISPUTE RESOLUTION.
Abstract: EMPIRICAL DATA FOR THIS NATIONAL STUDY CAME FROM THREE SOURCES: PERSONAL INTERVIEWS WITH JUDGES, SMALL CLAIMS CLERKS, AND ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF, DATA FROM CASE RECORDS FOR 500 SMALL CLAIMS CASES IN EACH COURT IN 1975, AND RESPONSES TO A FOUR-PAGE QUESTIONNAIRE SENT TO ALL INDIVIDUAL PLAINTIFFS AND DEFENDANTS IDENTIFIED IN THE 500-CASE SAMPLE FOR EACH COURT. RESPONSES TO THE PLAINTIFF QUESTIONNAIRE WERE OBTAINED FOR 1,446 CASES, AND RESPONSES FOR 593 CASES WERE RECEIVED FOR THE DEFENDANT QUESTIONNAIRE. THE FINDINGS ARE ANALYZED WITH REGARD TO JUDGES, LITIGANTS, SMALL CLAIMS COURT COSTS, STEPS BEFORE TRIAL, THE TRIAL, THE POSTTRIAL PROCESS, AND LITIGANT PROBLEMS AND OPINIONS. OVERALL, FINDINGS SHOW THAT THE SMALL CLAIMS COURTS ARE MEETING THE GOALS OF SPEEDY AND INEXPENSIVE JUSTICE FAR BETTER THAN THE LITERATURE IMPLIES, AND THAT CASES RARELY TAKE MORE THAN 6 WEEKS FROM FILING TO RESOLUTION. THE COSTS OF USING THE COURTS ARE USUALLY LESS THAN $25 FOR LITIGANTS, AND MOST COURTS ARE HELPFUL TO INEXPERIENCED PLAINTIFFS NOT USING ATTORNEYS. IN ALMOST EVERY COURT, INDIVIDUAL JUDGES OR CLERKS HAVE DEVELOPED USEFUL SOLUTIONS TO SOME OF THE PROBLEMS IN THE SMALL CLAIMS PROCESS. HOWEVER, FINDINGS ALSO INDICATE THAT THE COSTS OF USING SMALL CLAIMS COURTS BECOME SUBSTANTIAL WHEN ATTORNEYS ARE USED OR WHERE LOST WAGES ARE CONSIDERED. CONSUMERS RARELY USE ATTORNEYS AND OFTEN END UP DEFENDANTS IN THESE COURTS, AND LITTLE PRETRIAL ASSISTANCE IS PROVIDED TO DEFENDANTS. JUDGES DO NOT PLAY AN ACTIVE ROLE AT THE TRIAL, AND A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF LITIGANTS ARE UNABLE TO COLLECT THEIR SMALL CLAIMS JUDGMENTS, PARTICULARLY IN DEFAULT CASES. SEVERAL RECOMMENDATIONS ARE MADE, INCLUDING SUGGESTIONS THAT SMALL CLAIMS COURTS BE OPEN TO EVERYONE (BUSINESS PLAINTIFFS AND COLLECTION AGENCIES AS WELL AS PRIVATE CITIZENS), DEFENDANTS BE GIVEN MORE ASSISTANCE, AND ATTORNEY ROLES AT TRIALS BE LIMITED. APPENDIXES DESCRIBE STATUTORY VARIATIONS IN SMALL CLAIMS COURTS BY STATE AND THE STUDY METHODOLOGY. SUPPORTING DATA ARE TABULATED.
Index Term(s): Evaluation ; Studies ; Consumers ; Small claims courts ; Court costs ; Court case flow ; Civil proceedings ; United States of America
   
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https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=54568

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